According to statistics from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee has over 70,000 cases of domestic violence involving men and women victims.
In an effort to reduce that number, Lynchburg native Shayna Qualls started a nonprofit organization dedicated to those escaping domestic violence situations in the Nashville and Middle Tennessee area.
Wings of Courage began as an online support group on Facebook back in 2013, she said.
She shared the story of her mother, who committed suicide as a means to escape an abusive situation in 2004, bringing viral attention to the group.
“It went viral and brought 2.5 million shares and about 20,000 people to the Facebook page,” Qualls said.
She also shared the story of her sister, Kayla, who was murdered in 2012, garnering more support for the page.
When Qualls’ sister was killed, she was so badly beaten that law enforcement officers struggled to identify the body. Their effort was aided by a butterfly tattoo on Kayla’s arm.
That tattoo, Qualls said, was symbolic. It was one Kayla had gotten to cover up a previous tattoo of her abuser’s name.
“Kayla’s tattoo was half the reason that I named it that,” she said of the Wings of Courage program.
With the name chosen, Qualls then decided to take another step to help those fleeing domestic violence situations.
“We provide emergency escape items for victims when they’re escaping their abusive situations,” she said. “The most dangerous time in a domestic violence situation is when you escape.”
Called “flight bags,” these collected items offer victims much-needed resources in order to take that first step toward a better life.
Items such as prepaid gift cards for food and gas, prepaid cell phones, hygiene items, some clothing, an “escape plan” and other resource information are included.
But that’s not all Qualls wants to do to help.
Wings of Courage recently launched a brick fundraiser designed to support the eventual construction of a transitional house for those escaping domestic abuse.
When asked why she wanted to build an entire shelter for domestic violence victims, Qualls said it would eliminate one fear of many in abusive relationships.
“A lot of the times that individuals won’t leave because they have nowhere to go and they’re going to be homeless,” she said. “I want to give them a chance to escape their situation without the fear of being homeless.”
The home will be called a Haven of Transformation, building on the butterfly theme inspired by her sister.
“It’s about the transformation process from being broken into being healed and finding power inside yourself,” she said of the house and her organization.
The fundraiser is live now at fundraisingbrick.com/online-orders/wingsofcourage, and will continue for more than year, ending Dec. 31, 2021.
According to Qualls, by keeping the fundraiser going that long, she hopes to be able to raise the “upwards of $1 million” needed to build the house.
The current plans for the house, Qualls said, are for it to house 10 survivors and their children, if needed.
“Any victim or survivor of domestic violence, or any supporters of the cause, can donate money to have a brick made in their name,” Qualls said of the fundraiser. “What we’ll do is make it a part of the house or set up a sidewalk or something like that that will let victims and survivors who are at the house know that they’re not alone and that they are supported.”
The house will be located in the Middle Tennessee area, Qualls said, as this is where she started her organization.
Eventually, though, she’d love to see more of her havens placed throughout the state.
Qualls also has plans to create a resource center in Davidson County, where victims and survivors of all creeds can come and receive assistance.
As a faith-based program, Qualls said the resource center will have both a men’s and women’s ministry. While the Haven of Transformation will primarily be for female victims, male victims can utilize the resource center for their own flight bags.
“They’ll also be able to come to the resource center to get clothing and food items,” Qualls said.
The center will also feature case managers who will help victims and survivors with financial, emotional or spiritual assistance, she added.
Wings of Courage Ministries is still going strong online, with weekly support threads, inspirational messages and practical advice on things like orders of protection.
“We still facilitate that every week,” Qualls said.
Those looking for help or resources on escaping domestic violence can find Wings of Courage Ministries on Facebook or visit www.wingsofcourage.org for more information.
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.